Wednesday

Flap your wings, come fly

The 14 hour flight had me re-check my passport over 20 times, 6-movies seen back to back, AND soaked up all the prep material saved by me, on paragliding.  Turns out that paragliding grew out of parachuting. In the 1960's, the military needed to train parachutists on how to perform safe landings. Repeatedly going up and down in an air-plane to drop the parachutists was complicated and time-consuming. In order to fit more landing practice into a day, they would attach the parachutists to a truck with a tow rope.



As the vehicle picked up speed, the parachutist would float higher and higher. Then the parachutist would release the tow rope and descend back to earth. Many parachutists soon became more interested in the floating part than the landing part. For fun, they would launch themselves off steep hills and parachute to the ground below, experimenting with how they could harness air currents to stay in the air longer. A new sport was born.



The elliptical-shaped parachute or wing that is used to fly by para-gliders actually folds up to the size of a backpack when it's not used. This makes the tool-kit of paragliding considerably lighter and more convenient to transport than hang gliders. Para-gliders use air currents and own body weight, to fly to heights of 23,000 feet with mere paragliding sails. Imagine the solitude, the incredible peaceJ





Now for the hard training part, the real practice on the ground. This is the most vital skill of handling the wing on the ground.  My instructor first talked me through the technique, a detailed 101. The romanticism of paragliding being all fun was soon dispensed with.  The first step is to push the face in the direction of the wind and walk/run forward, it is this, that helps the launch, the take off.  Simultaneously you pull on the wing, which causes it to start filling with air. Soon, the wing transforms from a piece of elliptical fabric dragging behind you on the ground into an inflated canopy rising over your head. I saw myself transformed into a kite. I was never good at kite flying, would cut my hand on the thread a zillion times, could never take off the kite from the ground, so I started getting cold feet about paragliding and almost ditched the flying!  I did even consider taking the option of the tandem ride, where you can enjoy the experience without being responsible for controlling the glider. But being a coward aint my middle name! JJ




Tom (my patient instructor) calmly kept talking me though airflow and how it works like the brakes of a car. This analogy helped me gain control of my runaway emotions.. At this point, the wing (the elliptical fabric) is above my head, catching some airflow. To retain control of the wing, I was taught to do an overhead check to ensure the wing is fully inflated and no lines are tangled. Post check I had to run down my designated slope to work up to flying speed. The wing slowly rises and gently picks you up with it. You look down and your feet are no longer touching the ground. You're flying!

It is scary, unnerving and equally overwhelming. You have to let go of the fear soonest, to control your flight. There is no one else up there to help you! This is cut loose freedom like never known before, I was soon a soaring bird in my mindJ  

I was taught in my 4-5 hours of 101 to work with the airflow to create the lift. Air flows over both the top and the bottom of the glider and meets at the edge. Aerodynamics predict that the pressure on the bottom of the glider is higher than on the top of the glider. This creates lift upwards. So tugging the lines, shuffling own body weight, manoeuvring the glider to ensure a constant inflow of air current, is the challenge and the thrill. Wont go into the details of my 101 in terms of 3 basic types of rising air etc.J , suffice to say, took all my being to remember the steering and controlling the wing lessons, while I was up in the sky



If I wanted to turn to the right, I pulled on the right control and released pressure on the left. This made the right side of the wing fly slower and the left faster. Before you know it, the glider smoothly angles rightJ, of course, it's all a matter of finesse and practice. Yanking on the controls can cause the wing to act unpredictably. So its important to stay calm in the head when sailing in the skies.




If for some reason the wing begins to deflate, due to turbulent air or own miscalculation, 9 out of 10 times it usually re-inflates on its own. In the rare instance it doesn't, there is an emergency parachute, which one has to deploy


I think I went into some details on this post, with the hope that some of you readers will bite the bullet when an opportunity arises. Go for it. Flying high above with no noise, no person, is an experience one can only feel and cherish. No words can do justice to the feelings, when, up above.

8 comments:

sheila said...

You write well Mee! it almost makes me wish to go para gliding, were it not for my fear of heights

melinda said...

Woooooot woot!!! Wow!! This is biiig! Loved your post! Maybe I shall try closer home near Lonavala hehehe

ashish said...

What an experience this must have been. I so wish we had such options closer home in the East of India. Did you ever do hang gliding too? UIs this expereince similar, better? beautiful post, so easy to understand the training you went through. Lovely pictures too, you look like a pro flying the glider.

sanjiv said...

Meeeeeee this is AWESOME! wow! When did this happen? Ive done para sailing & parachuting, and I thought those were IT. Added paragliding to the bucket list:)

Aijaz Ahmed said...

Lovely. Two years back Umair went for paragliding and on return he was brimming with excitement and adventure he had had. Keep exploring new vistas, keep enjoying every bit of life. Cheers

sagar said...

A wonderful and lively account of your encounter with one of man's primordial fantasy. Thanks for adding another challenge to my life. I promise I will be donning the glides soon ;)

Rajj said...

This has to be a mother of all experiences!

gita said...

Am a chicken, can't do this maaan, this is seriously scary!